Brig. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, a 25-year Air Force veteran, replaced Brig. Gen Jeffrey Remington in June as head of the 18th Wing.

Brig. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, a 25-year Air Force veteran, replaced Brig. Gen Jeffrey Remington in June as head of the 18th Wing. (David Allen / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Brig. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas knows he’s in for the ride of his life as commander of Kadena Air Base and the 18th Wing.

And, he indicates, he’s enjoying every minute.

“I was astonished when I was notified I was coming out here,” Jouas said during a recent interview at 18th Wing Headquarters. “But I was also very happy and very pleased because Kadena has such a great reputation throughout the Air Force. Now that I’ve been here I can see why.”

The 25-year Air Force veteran replaced Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Remington in June, becoming the 18th Wing’s 53rd commander. A command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours, he’s flown more than 80 combat missions over Iraq and Kosovo.

“The biggest surprise has been the level of activity and the complexity of the mission here,” he said. “It’s all due to the size of the Wing and the many units that we have.

“I did not realize how big Kadena was — and by ‘big’ I mean in so many ways other than just size — until I arrived,” he said. “Being here with the biggest wing with some of the biggest units in the Air Force — the biggest support group, the biggest logistics readiness squadron, the biggest services squadron — you can really see we really get some of the best first-round draft choices.

“The opportunity to lead these great people, as their commander, is the greatest thing that’s happened to me in my career.”

About 23,000 people live on the base. Some 8,000 are assigned to the 18th Wing and associate units. The rest are soldiers, sailors, Marines, civilian employees and their family members.

Jouas said the base’s mission is twofold: “to provide for regional security in the interests of the United States and Japan” and “to organize, train and equip our forces and provide them for the combatant commanders around the globe.”

He said the Air Force’s Air Expeditionary Force concept, in which airmen are assigned to AEF units for 120 days every 15 months, makes deployments from Kadena manageable.

“We are fortunately at the moment not heavily deployed,” he said. The next batch of 18th Wing airmen will become part of an AEF scheduled for deployment in May.

“That’s when we’ll have some hundreds of our airman deployed to different locations around the world, some of them in Iraq, some in Afghanistan, some in other locations wherever they are needed,” he said.

While the United States and Japan are discussing possible changes in the U.S. force structure in Japan, Jouas does not believe they will affect his facility.

“I know there’s a lot of talk in the press about changes being made in the force structure,” he said, “but I don’t foresee a lot of changes at Kadena Air Base.”

One recent change is the Japan Air and Maritime Self-Defense Forces presence on Kadena during runway construction on its base in Naha.

“It’s a great example of how our two services get along very well,” Jouas said. “It just exemplifies the strength of our alliance.” Incorporating the Japanese units on Kadena was seamless, he said. “We’re very happy that it’s turned out as well as it has.”

Another major challenge of commanding Kadena, he said, is ensuring good relations are maintained with local communities. The air base lies within municipalities Kadena and Chatan towns and Okinawa City.

“I meet periodically with the mayors of all these towns,” he said. “At times it’s formal, at times it’s social. But I do my very best to maintain an open dialog that’s transparent, not taken as being defensive, and I think we’re succeeding.”

He said the base makes a special effort to be open. For example, during the most recent operational readiness exercise, “We brought members of the outside community (local officials and the media) onto the base to demonstrate what it was we were going to do,” Jouas said, “the ground blast simulators and the other material that we use during our exercises.

“We also participate with the community in many outreach programs. Like the Special Olympics. Last year we had 800 special athletes, 2,000 volunteers and raised $150,000. And we’re looking to make the Special Olympics this next year even bigger and better.”

Jouas said what he likes most about Okinawa was the local people. “I’ve had many opportunities to get off base and interact socially and they’re just very friendly,” he said. “At times you may read things in the press that might make you think otherwise but I’ve found that absolutely not to be the case.

“And I would say the same thing if you’d ask me what’s the best thing about Kadena,” he added “I would say it’s the people.”

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